They see their backgrounds as the beam that supports their workhouse. These women have rich heritage in three different countries and bring a variety of experience into their roles working with patients at Riley Hospital for Children.
“I don’t think we’d be able to impart the quality of care intellectually or emotionally without the differences in our backgrounds,” said Dr. Myda Khalid, a nephrologist who specializes in kidney disease, dialysis and transplant. A native of Pakistan, Khalid came to the United States in 2004 to begin her residency, and joined IU Health in 2010. “Our cultural diversity is what makes our team strong,” said Dr. Khalid, who is credited with developing the IU Pediatric Nephrology Fellowship Program – training the next generation of doctors in pediatric medicine.
At the helm of the team is Dr. Corina Nailescu, Medical Director of the Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program. She calls herself the “senior member” having joined IU Health 15 years ago. She grew up in Romania and attended Mihai Viteazul Mathematics & Physics National College in Bucharest. She pursued graduate studies in medicine and came to the United States in 2001 for her residency in pediatrics.
The newest member of the team is Dr. Neha Pottanat, who becomes the Director of Medical Dialysis at Riley Hospital today. Pottanat grew up in Newburg, Ind. the first child of Anita and Ashok Dhingra, who were born and raised in New Delhi, India.
Studying medicine was something the women knew at an early age as their destiny.
“My parents have been married 35 years. My father came to the States two years prior to that to practice medicine. He grew up in a middle class family in New Delhi and was extremely bright. Medicine has a lot of prestige in India and everyone wanted to get into medical school. He did and then came to the United States to complete his residency,” said Dr. Pottanat.
His influence wore off on his daughter.
“His story was always so inspiring to me and I know moving to the US was not easy. I think it was always expected that I would become a physician. I was always the daughter he took to work and introduced me to the nurses,” said Dr. Pottanat who is married Tom Pottanat, a scientist with Eli Lilly. Dr. Pottanat graduated from the University of Missouri and completed her fellowship in pediatric nephrology at Ohio State University.
Dr. Nailescu was in the eleventh grade when she knew she wanted to become a doctor.
“I just wanted to do something good for other people honestly. I entered medical school when Romania was under communism. The borders were closed and I didn’t even think I would go anywhere for site seeing let alone residency. Then in 1999 the wall fell, communism collapsed and I realized there was a whole world out there I could go to,” said Dr. Nailescu, who is married to IU Health Dr. Dragos Sabau, a neurologist who specializes in seizure disorders. They have a ten-year-old daughter.
“My mom always told me I should learn a foreign language and I could never understand why. I didn’t think I’d ever leave Romania,” said Dr. Nailescu. “Luckily there were good American people who came to work with the Peace Corps and they started teaching me English while I was in college. They even helped me with mock interviews to prepare for my residency.”
The child of a father who was a scientist and a mother who was a pediatrician, Dr. Khalid also knew at an early age that she wanted to study medicine. “I’m a good combination of both of them. I love science and the beauty of being a physician is not only do you apply science, but you also learn science. You can ask questions about the world and the universe and the body and every day we can help people,” said Dr. Khalid, who is married to Dr. Ali F. Iqtidar, a cardiologist at IU Health Saxony. They are the parents of a nine-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter.
The Pediatric Nephrology team at Riley Hospital sees an average of 30 children – ages newborn to 21 years – on dialysis at a time. Thirty percent of the patients are undergoing hemodialysis and 70 percent are undergoing peritoneal dialysis.
“These kids all have kidney diseases for different reasons. The most common is they are born with a congenital defect that causes low kidney function,” said Dr. Pottanat. “I think there are technical improvements today in how we give dialysis to kids. Dialysis was made for adults and modified for kids but it’s definitely gotten better. People are starting to understand that children don’t feel horrible on dialysis, and can actually have a lot of energy and do a lot of activities. But children definitely face challenges. In pediatrics, dialysis is a bridge to transplant that allows them to have a better quality of life.” A multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses and pharmacists makes the decision of when a child is ready for a kidney transplant. “In general the child should weigh about 20 pounds. Most living donors are adults over the age of 18 so we are talking about placing an adult kidney in a pediatric patient. We have to take into consideration that babies and little kids have lower blood pressure than adults and there are other health factors too,” said Dr. Nailescu. As of June 2019, the pediatric kidney transplant program completed six transplants.
Since she first came to Riley Hospital Dr. Nailescu has seen sweeping changes in dialysis and transplant of young patients.
“Fifteen years ago Dr. William Goggins had been here about two years as the transplant surgeon. None of my other pediatric nephrologist colleagues had experience with kidney transplantation so once a child came out of OR, the surgeon was the one who cared for the patient,” said Dr. Nailescu. “Now we have a whole team that includes a transplant coordinator, a dietician, a pharmacist, a social worker, and nephrologists, and nurses, to assess if the patient is growing and developing well and if they have other medical issues or complications such as anemia or high blood pressure that can develop after a child receives a kidney transplant.”
Last year the IU Health Kidney Transplant Program performed more than 200 adult and pediatric kidney transplants, making IU Health transplant one of the top transplant centers by volume in the United States and a national leader in positive patient outcomes.
Each summer, doctors and nurses at Riley Hospital volunteer their time to join young patients at Kidney Camp. Sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation, the camp is a place where kids ages 8-18 years can climb a rock wall, fish, and swim, ride horses, and hang from a zip line. For five days, they spend time with other kids who have kidney disease, and they can forget their cares. The campers include children who are pre-transplant, on dialysis, or have already received a kidney transplant. Riley Hospital healthcare professionals are on hand to assist with on-site dialysis and other medical needs. Dr. Neha Pottanat and her husband joined other Riley Hospital team members volunteering at this year’s camp in June. Her husband was a counselor for a cabin filled with the youngest boy campers.
It’s an example of how the women extend their care and the passion for their profession outside the hospital. It’s also an example of the bond they share.
“I was 13-weeks pregnant with my second child when we were moving and my husband needed to go to Pakistan to care for his brother. My nephrology colleagues spent their weekend helping me unpack,” said Dr. Khalid of her team members. Her children attend the same school as Dr. Nailescu’s daughter and the three women often spend their lunch hours relaxing on a park bench and join each other for weekend hikes at local parks.
“Our religions are all different; our backgrounds are different but we all have the same interest in medicine,” said Dr. Khalid. “We can’t understand why the rest of the world is fighting when there is so much more to focus on. Every day is an opportunity to make a big difference.”
--By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health. Reach Banes via email firstname.lastname@example.org.